Holding the state to task on clean water, saving salmon

When the federal government gives the state of Washington money to save salmon and protect clean water, it needs to ensure the state is actually saving salmon and protecting clean water.

Unfortunately, the federal government has been lax in enforcing state compliance with the Clean Water Act even though it has provided funding for it.

Earlier this week Northwest Environmental Advocates filed a lawsuit to force federal funders to cut off funding to state programs that undermine efforts to recover salmon and protect clean water:

“Congress was very clear that the federal agencies are required to use fear of funding losses to kick coastal states into high gear on protecting water quality,” said Nina Bell, Executive Director of NWEA. “But, for 18 years, the federal agencies have blatantly ignored the law and done nothing to protect the coastal water quality that Washington citizens desire and Washington species require. The Department of Ecology’s failure to control polluted runoff from farms, urban areas, and logging is an attack on salmon, orca whales, shellfish beds, and recreation.”

The federal law requires EPA and NOAA to withhold at least one third of federal grant funds from states that have failed to obtain approval of their coastal nonpoint source runoff programs, starting in 1996. The Washington Department of Ecology receives an average of $3 million each year from EPA to support its nonpoint source program and $2 million annually for its coastal zone management program. Both grant programs are subject to the funding cuts.

The treaty tribes in western Washington have been calling for the federal government to take action for the last five years. As part of the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative, the treaty tribes have asked the federal government to cut off funding for programs that undercut treaty rights.

From Treaty Rights at Risk:

Require federal funding supporting state programs and pass-through grants to be conditioned so that all funded efforts achieve consistency with state water quality standards and salmon recovery plan habitat objectives. Examples include:

  • Clean Water Act funds, National Estuary Program funds and Coastal Zone Management Act funds should implement actions designed to achieve state water quality standards, total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), and salmon recovery plan habitat objectives.

  • USDA funds, including Farm Service Agency (FSA) and National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) programs should implement riparian buffers comparable to those that NMFS has called for in its RPA for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance 21 Program, and implement all other practices consistent with TMDLs, water quality standards, and salmon recovery objectives.

The entire lawsuit can be found here.

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